Typically second grade Holy Cross students show up the first day of school knowing how to read, having mastered their know-how the year before. One young boy didn’t. A reserved, quiet youngster, the little tyke, nevertheless, was the first student to reach out to the school’s new reading mentor, approaching her with a book of his choice and then sitting down to read the words out loud. The book was Clifford the Big Red Dog. The mentor was Addy, a Labrador retriever mix.
Barbara Deane, principal, had been interested in the benefits of dogs to soothe anxiety while encouraging student participation for a number of years, but had never had the opportunity to have a dog on staff. Two months ago the right dog showed up with the right credentials.
Shelley Henn, second grade teacher, heard about “Puppies for Parole”—a program for rescue dogs trained by prison inmates. With the responsibility of having a dog to share their limited space, the prisoners taught their four-legged cellmates to be adaptable, attentive, and—most importantly—patient. Once Shelley visited Holy Cross’ prospective pup, she know it was meant to be. Addy was bundled into her car and arrived for work in the classroom the very next day.
According to Ms. Deane, “Addy is available for hugs, ball-toss games at recess, and especially reading.” The classroom includes a reading chair which Addy sits near when she's ready to work. When she needs a break, instead of heading for the teachers’ lounge, she simply lies down on the floor. When she does, the kids respect her need for rest, just as Addy respects their eagerness and enthusiasm when they sit by her side with a book—and sometimes her fur—in hand.
Even reading-adverse middle school students line up to read with Addy. Though the typically self-conscious kids will do anything to keep from reading in public—a responsibility they’re occasionally asked to fulfill at Mass—they seem more open to the idea when they get a chance to practice with Addy.
“Another terrific side effect of having a reading dog,” Ms. Deane chuckles, “is that we're having a lot of requests for books about dogs!”